There’s just something about Nisekoi which bugs me. In an odd way, I find it almost touching. Or perhaps, to put it more accurately, I think the premise has the potential to be more touching than what you’d assume at first glance.
This post is partly inspired by Flawfinder’s Suggestions On Making Nisekoi More Noteworthy. What he basically wanted was for the series to have more original jokes that didn’t just revolve around “GIRL #2874 LIKES RAKU! ZOMG!” I thought it was a pretty fun post, made especially ironic since a lot of the suggestions actually play out in some way or another in the manga.
For what it’s worth, I think Nisekoi is already fine as a comedy, though. The manga in particular has an impeccable sense of comedic timing that makes it a pleasant, if not very challenging, read. But when you look past the lulz and the cute character designs, Nisekoi ultimately feels very hollow. It’s so derivative that you’d be hard-pressed to find anything the story is really trying to say for itself. And while it copies so many romcom cliches because they work, it’s no standout in its genre.
Then there’s the romance itself. Nisekoi revels so much in the cheapness of the harem genre that I don’t think it’s very serious in trying to get the viewer to buy into the love between Raku and Chitoge. It’s designed to ignite “Best Girl” debates, not “Who has the best relationship?” Emotional realism is obviously not what you watch Nisekoi for.
I actually think this is the most interesting thing about Nisekoi (and harem anime in general, I might add). On the “meta” level, it’s basically saying that it’s not a story about true love, even though it’s a given that Raku and Chitoge will end up together.
It’s easy to write that contradiction off as bad writing, an inevitable result of depicting a male wish fulfillment fantasy. I think it’s symptomatic of a larger trend in romantic fiction to become more cynical and self-aware about the kind of fantasies they’re projecting. It plays on the audience’s insecurities and yearnings for love, albeit in a roundabout way. “If you like this, it doesn’t mean you’re desperate to find love!” it’s trying to say. “It’s romantic but not actually romantic!”
Hell, it’s in the title: Nisekoi – ‘False Love’. On the basic surface level, Nisekoi is a story that’s about a fake relationship, so I’m not just pulling this reading out of my ass.
So if Nisekoi is written to not be very touching, why do I think that it’s touching
in spite of because of that?
Well, if the meaning of “true love” is lost in the context of the show, isn’t that kind of sad in a way? Watching Nisekoi makes me feel hollow, as if the whole story is holding up a tsundere front and refuses to acknowledge itself.
The setup of the main love triangle is also somewhat tragic when you think about it. Raku and Onodera begin the story in love but unable to say it, and by the end of the story they will have squandered all their chances to be together. Theirs is a story of “true” love that becomes gradually more inauthentic as time passes. Onodera isn’t just the “unlucky childhood friend” character; they both are, in this case.
The setup with the keys and Raku’s lock frankly depresses me. It’s used as a metaphor to highlight what true love is in the context of the show. The girl whose key opens Raku’s lock is the girl with whom he made the marriage promise with, therefore that girl is his true love. And even if there is a subversion at the end and the owner of the key turns out not to be Chitoge, it will still be the event that makes Raku choose her as his true love. In other words, everything about their courtship is artificially constructed. They are denied even the pleasure of finding love in each other because of who they are, not because of outside circumstances.
Interference from outside is one of the more common romantic cliches, but because of Nisekoi’s trope-obsessed nature, the relationships don’t even give off the illusion of being organic (which I would argue is the appeal of fiction in general).
If the course of true love in this show can be so easily manipulated by outside powers, what is that (implicitly) saying about how relationships work in this show? If Raku and Chitoge fall in love just because and Raku and Onodera fall out of love just because, well… I don’t know about you guys, but it only points to one message for me:
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS TRUE LOVE.
Damn it, Nisekoi. You’re breaking my heart.